Elijah Wood has a rough few days in Ant Timpson’s directorial feature debut.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.)
Come To Daddy is a challenging film to review, if only because it hinges on a turn of events that are better left discovered by audiences. The feature directorial debut of prolific producer Ant Timpson (The Greasy Strangler, Turbo Kid, The ABCs of Death) defies convention by liberally jumping between genres and tones in a way that feels like several very different drafts of the same story have been stitched together.
The basic logline appears straightforward on the surface: thirtysomething DJ Norwal (Elijah Wood) treks through the woods to a remote elevated cabin on a lake at the request of his estranged father (Stephen McHattie). Norwal is a little precious: he’s introduced dragging his suitcase through the woods and immediately loses his hat, suggesting that he’s not in his natural element. His LA bowl cut and asymmetrical, high fashion clothes also offer a hilarious contrast with his environment (think Dan Levy’s David Rose from Schitt’s Creek and you get the idea).
Upon arriving at a gorgeous, “60s alien pod” house, Norwal is confronted with his absent father figure – a gruff, distant man who seems both put-off and bemused by him. McHattie is perfectly cast as the disapproving father: he has a mildly sinister gleam in his eye and easily conveys the man’s take-no-BS attitude. There’s an air of tension in every interaction the pair share, whether it’s an uncomfortable dinner discussion about Norwal’s suicide attempt due to “alcohol dependency” or when Dad calls out his son’s tall-tale about knowing Elton “Reginald” John.
Come To Daddy only becomes odder when the tension turns to actual violence. Writer Toby Harvard has a tendency to change the plot on a dime, allow a new status quo to settle in and then, just when the plot begins to feel comfortable again, shake things up again. Odd sounds in the night, a police officer with a curious belief about tiny eyes, a potential romance with a coroner, and a trap door all figure into the proceedings.
Come To Daddy only becomes odder when the tension turns to actual violence.
The mild narrative whiplash can make for a difficult balance, however. Wood is required to carry nearly the entirety of the film, and though the genre vet handles the emotional and the mild physical elements of the film well, as a character Norwal feels slightly unformed. His backstory and reticence to engage with difficult or uncomfortable situations definitely inform his arc, particularly as Norwal is required to take on more and greater responsibilities to guarantee his survival. When Come To Daddy shifts into a revenge-based thriller, though, the character recedes and the violence becomes the driving factor.
With that said, the violence is quite good. There are a few moments that require a suspension of disbelief, but for the most part, Come To Daddy’s setpieces have a grounded realism that feels authentically gritty and inelegant. This isn’t John Wick fight choreography; it’s a battle to survive and things get messy and unexpectedly dirty. It is here that Timpson’s direction, frequently cutting or framing to suggest the violence rather than show it outright, and Harvard’s genre-mixing script reach their potential.
Despite its occasionally polarizing shifts in tone that wind up de-prioritizing character in favour of gory violence, Come To Daddy is a solid thrill ride. It’s worth checking out if only to see when and how it will change forms.
Plus, you know, the violence.